Review by Gordon Justesen
Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Scheider, Laura Harring, Ben
Foster, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Lion’s Gate
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004
certain…EXTREME situations, the law is inadequate. In order to shame its
inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law. To pursue…natural justice.
This is not vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive, it's an emotional
response. No, not vengeance…PUNISHMENT."
Of all the comic
book characters to come around in the last thirty years, the one that has always
stood out is the character of Frank Castle, aka The Punisher. In 1974, Marvel
first introduced the character as a possible nemesis to Spider-Man. Pretty soon
afterwards, the character was headlining his very own comic book adventures. In
my younger years, I instantly became a fan, and to this day, it is my all time
favorite comic book creation.
Only one thing
differed from his adventures than the rest of the Marvel clan; The Punisher was
more of a work of tragedy as opposed to regular heroism. Frank Castle is, and
has long been the ultimate anti-hero. Even when compared to the likes of The
Incredible Hulk, The Punisher is an even grimmer work of dark comic book
In 1989, an attempt
was made to adapt the dark tale of Frank Castle to the silver screen. Dolph
Lundgren had been cast in the title role. The end result was a bad idea that was
thrown away by its distributor and given a direct to video premiere. For one
thing, the first movie version didn't even think to acquire Frank Castle with
the larger than life skull logo he bears in the comic. That alone was reason
enough for me never to see the movie.
So it goes without
saying that if a Punisher movie was going to be made at all, it had to be made
right. Fifteen years down the road, the requirement had been met in a big way.
With a skillful team of filmmakers and actors involved, The Punisher has been converted into, in my opinion, one of the
downright best comic book movie adaptations ever. It may help to be a loyalist
to the original comic book source, but I think just about anyone who knows of
the world of Frank Castle will end up giving the film a huge dose of credit for
sticking to its dark grim roots.
who do evil to others; the murderers, rapists, psychos, sadists will come to
know me well…"
And talk about
perfect casting. Thomas Jane, an actor I've long admired after seeing his strong
supporting roles in such films as Boogie
Nights and Deep Blue Sea, got
whipped into amazing physical shape and made the role of Frank Castle his own.
Like Tobey Maguire did Spider-Man,
Jane accomplishes pure perfection in bringing a comic book creation to life in a
fully realized way. In addition, Mr. Jane does the look of The Punisher so
extravagantly well. The first shot of him in the black laced getup, with the
skull logo in tow is a shot that deserves to be remembered.
As for the all
around execution of the film, my expectations were exceeded in a heartbeat.
Serious fans of the comic book are likely to think while watching, "Gee,
for once THEY GOT IT RIGHT!". The story opens with Castle, a federal agent,
orchestrating an undercover bust involving an illegal weapons exchange. The op
results in the unexpected killing of the buyer, who just so happens to be
connected to a high-profile criminal empire. It's also Frank's last assignment,
as he is retiring from the bureau and moving his family to safe haven in London.
It turns out that
the young man murdered in the FBI sting is the son of reputed crime boss Howard
Saint (John Travolta) who is stricken with grief and pure disgust upon hearing
the news. He wants the man who killed him to be taken out. Upon learning of
Castle's identity, he orders his right hand assassin, Quentin Glass (Will
Patton) to strike back at Castle at his family reunion in Puerto Rico. An even
harsher request is given by Howard's wife, Livia (Laura Harring), who orders
them to wipe out not only Castle, but his entire family.
unthinkable does happens in a vicious sequence, but quite necessary in setting
up the rest of the movie. A group of armed men execute a harsh raid on Castle's
family. Castle manages to take out a few of the henchmen, but is powerless in
trying to save his wife and son, who are killed while attempting to flee. Frank
is then cornered by the men, beaten to a pulp, shot, and then doused with
gasoline and left to be blown to bits on a pier.
But Castle survives
the killing. When his body is washed onto the shore, he is quickly helped by a
local islander/witch doctor. As soon as he regains consciousness, Castle
relocates to the city, where he hides out at a nearly rundown rooming house. He
gathers together a supreme arsenal of weapons, and plots to strike at the
criminal empire that tried to destroy him.
Castle is dead…"
captures the attention of the fellow occupants of the rooming house, most
notably Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a lonely waitress. She is somewhat
attracted to Frank, but he resists due to still being haunted by images of his
wife and son, plus the fact that he is focused on extracting deadly force and
nothing more. He tells her flat out that he's not what she's looking for.
As an all out
action movie, The Punisher also
happens to be one of the best I've seen in quite some time. This may be the pure
epitome of pure hardcore action for many years to come, and let's face it, when
bringing this character to the silver screen, there's simply no other way to do
it. Castle's duels with Saint's hired guns are pure grabbers, including an
encounter with a guitar playing assassin from Memphis and a monstrous figure
named The Russian, whose hand to hand combat with Castle is easily the best and
funniest fight sequences I've seen in a long time.
As Howard Saint,
John Travolta demonstrates once again why he is so dependable in the role of the
heavy, despite his all around likeability. He makes Saint into a memorable
villain, making him as ruthless and despicable as possible. At the same time,
Travolta is able to squeeze in some humor into the role, with a couple of lines
that generate some serious laughs.
The pure power in
the film's story is Castle's revenge plot, which isn't as dull and one
dimensional as you may expect. It's carefully extracted, and has something of a
noir touch to it. The elements that play into this revenge plot really have the
ability to surprise you with just how clever it is. What goes down, you ask?
You'll just have to watch and see, my friend.
To put it simply, The
Punisher is a fan's dream come true if there ever was one. Credit
writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh for constructing a movie that stayed true to
the roots of the comic book, and ensuring that an R rating would be kept for the
benefit of the movie. And the film couldn't have been what it is without the
strength of Thomas Jane in the title role. I honestly believe that few actors in
the future will be able to pull off such a similar, outstanding job.
Punisher is both a triumph of
a comic book movie and a remarkable, unrelenting action movie experience.
Lion's Gate have
been on the rise over the last couple of years, in terms of producing stellar
DVD presentations, and I'm pleased to report that The Punisher is the studio's strongest effort to date. The
anamorphic picture quality is of the most outstanding performance in all key
fields. The movie's Tampa setting and stylish noir-like look help to pay off
strongly in the incredible picture quality. Images are consistently clear, even
in the darkest of settings, which the movie has plenty of. A grand presentation
every step of the way.
Upon getting the
disc, I was unaware that the 5.1 mix supplied was in EX mode. That little
enhancement is always a huge benefactor in the sound performance of a disc, and
it certainly benefited this one immensely, so much to the point that I have now
declared this disc as the best sounding of the year so far. Every single sound
factor is elevated to a superb level here. The action, of course, takes center
stage and it makes the most out of any good surround sound system. Music
playback and dialogue are also clearly handled and well balanced, as are several
set pieces which provide some strong dynamic range. In short, it's a DVD
presentation for the history books!
Lion's Gate offers
one of their best loaded discs to date, as well, with a strong arsenal of extras
to keep one entertained. Included is a commentary track with writer/director
Jonathan Hensleigh, four intriguing featurettes; "Keeping it Real"
features a look at the astounding stunt work of the movie, "War Journal: On
the Set of The Punisher" is a well documented and informative
production diary that covers a plenty of ground as far as making the movie is
concerned, "Army of One: The Punisher Origins" is a most in-depth look
at the creation of the comic book character, and "Drawing Blood: Bradstreet
Style" features an interview with the cover artist of The Punisher. Also
included are some deleted scenes, a music video for Drowning Pool's song,
"Step Up", and a trailer for the upcoming Punisher video game.
The disc also comes
with a special comic book that serves as a prequel to the movie, though this is
said to be available for a limited time.